Beyond Belief by Helen Smith is the fourth book in the contemporary mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Emily Castles (available January 28, 2014).
I love a mystery with a spunky amateur sleuth, and Helen Smith has created a great little cozy series with the charming Emily Castles. Emily can’t seem to find a job where she’s truly happy so she works for a temporary agency doing various office jobs around London—until an opportunity comes along to add to the mix and her job becomes more interesting.
In Beyond Belief, Emily is hired by the Royal Society for the Exploration of Science and Culture to be a “future crimes investigator” at their “Belief and Beyond” conference. The purpose of the conference is to discuss and present a basis for belief in paranormal abilities. They’re calling Emily’s investigation a future crime because Perspicacious Peg, well-known psychic and horoscope writer, has seen a vision of a man dying by drowning. Peg is convinced the victim will be the famous magician, Edmund Zenon, who’s planning to “walk on water” to awe and impress his followers and doubters. Edmund, a known skeptic of psychic and paranormal abilities, has also offered fifty thousand pounds to any paranormal specialist who can prove his or her ability is real.
Since the society will pay her expenses during the conference, Emily is pleased to help. Packing her notebook and pen along with her belongings, she’s ready to investigate the guest speakers and attendees of the conference to see who might wish harm to Edmund.
As usual with Smith’s lively heroine, Emily has an array of suspects. Not only those attending the gathering but people in the seaside town are up to their ears in the activities and an itinerant minister has come out to save the souls of these heathens by baptizing them in the clean waters of God’s love.
Accompanied by her friend Dr. Muriel Crowther, who’s a member of the society and teaches philosophy, Emily is ready to take on whatever adventure is ahead.
Emily stopped to read the sign put up by the tourist board just outside the Torquay train station.
WELCOME TO THE ENGLISH RIVERIA, TORQUAY
TWINNED WITH HAMELIN AND HELLEVOETSLUIS
“Hell-vite-sluice sounds like a device to separate the souls from the bodies of dead people in a mortuary, and flush the unwanted bits away,” she said to Dr. Muriel.
“What an imagination you have! It’s a city in Belgium. I believe they say hell-vous-laus. Much less alarming, don’t you think? More like a coleslaw than a disposal system for mortal remains. Come on!”
Dr. Muriel unhooked her silver-topped walking stick from her pull-along case and gestured toward the Hotel Majestic, only a few yards from the train station, looking out onto the gray sea under an overcast sky from on top of a hill.
“It gladdens my heart as soon as I step off the train and see it. Fresh air! Sea views! What do you think?”
“I think we might have trouble getting past that lot.”
Up ahead, a small crowd had gathered outside the main entrance, which was at the back of the hotel, facing the train station and away from the sea. Emily looked to see whether there was another doorway round the side that they could use. But Dr. Muriel moved forward fearlessly, waving her cane as if she was scattering pigeons in a park.
Smith keeps things moving along as the mystery deepens and the puzzle grows. She develops her cast of characters very well and keeps you guessing until Emily has everything she needs to make her assessment. Along the way, our intrepid investigator finds trouble of her own and even skirts the edges of a romance.
“How’s the report going?” Gerald asked Emily.
“The image of Edmund walking on water is where it starts for me. I mean, seeing the poster was where the story started to get real—looking at him, seeing his face, his eyes. I felt a connection to him. That image seems to suggest different things to different people. Some think it’s blasphemous. Some think it’s about entertainment, or money. Some think they’re looking at a man who will drown. It’s like…”
Dr. Muriel said, “It’s like a spiritualist or a psychic whose real skill is showing people to themselves. They use a mirror, not a microscope.” She smiled at Peg. “Or so the studies say, anyway.”
“I’ll agree with your there, Muriel,” said Peg. “There are those of us who have the gift, of course. But I’m afraid there’s also charlatans. You take that Joseph Seppardi, for one. You [sic] seen the way he manipulates that poor couple, Sarah and Tim? He’ll say he’s talking to their child, but he’s just telling Sarah what she wants to hear. He doesn’t have the kind of skills to bring to a situation and turn it around the way I can with my positivity circle. You’ve got all that in your report, Emily? A drowning foretold, and it’s all over and done with, fortunately, with the Colonel surviving the ordeal.”
Like most of Helen’s books, there’s shades of Agatha Christie and hints of Mary Higgins Clark. Smith has said some readers question why she sets her stories in London. Though she has traveled extensively, that’s where she lives now, and it’s obvious she loves it. My son and his family live in London, and I plan to visit many of the places I read about when I go over there. It’s so exciting to know I’ll get to see the Thames as Emily enjoys doing.
Crossing the Thames at night, with the bridges all lit up, was one of Emily’s private joys. London seemed alive then, a glittering dragon whose protection could be claimed by whoever gazed on it and admired it, though it would never be tamed by anyone.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It’s intriguing and entertaining. I think it’ll spice up a long winter night now that we’ve passed the holiday season and are into the dreary months. Skip the dreary and enjoy a cozy little mystery!
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Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who now writes fiction fulltime. She and her writing partner, Jan Powell, have just released a debut novel of shapeshifting and investigation, True Nature by Neely Powell. They’re currently working on the first of the Connelly Witches series, The Witches of New Mourne, for Harlequin Digital. She also writes for the popular blogs, WomenofMystery.net and neelypowell.wordpress.com.
Read all posts by Leigh Neely for Criminal Element.